Auto and Road User Journal
Auto and Road User Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
May 1, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

California's Motorcyclist Training May Decrease Crash and Fatality Rates

Studies have found trained motorcycle riders have fewer crashes and less severe crashes than untrained riders. The California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP), begun in 1987, has trained more than 100,000 motorcyclists. In 1988 the State of California made CMSP training mandatory for all riders under the age of 18. Legislation in 1991 raised the mandatory training age to 21 and required a formal evaluation of the impact of this training on motorcycle crash rates.

This mandate produced the report "Evaluation of the California Motorcyclist Safety Program" by John W. Billheimer. The research was contracted by the California Highway Patrol and presented at the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January 1998.

Researchers evaluated motorcycle crash rates in California before and after CMSP began. They then chose matched samples of trained and untrained riders and compared them six months after training, one year after training, and two years after training.

During the first nine years of CMSP, fatal motorcycle crashes in California dropped by 69 percent, while total motorcycle crashes fell by 67 percent. At the time of this report, the level of fatalities per registered motorcycle was 37 percent below the lowest pre-CMSP level in 1975 and 59 percent below the level in 1986, the year before CMSP began (see Illustration 1).

Illustration 1:
Fatalities Per Thousand Registrations

For riders under age 25, the crash ratio peaked at 146 crashes per thousand licensed riders in 1986. By 1995 this ratio had dropped to 72 crashes per thousand riders. The ratio of total crashes in the entire population of licensed riders had continued to drop since the beginning of CMSP, reaching a low of 12 crashes per thousand riders in 1995, or 70 percent less than the pre-CMSP peak (see Illustration 2).

Illustration 2:
Crashes Per Thousand Licensed Riders

California vs. the Rest of the U.S.

The research suggested that other factors might be influencing the drop in California's motorcycle crash rates. These factors included the aging of the population, a decrease in motorcycle sales, and the mandatory helmet law introduced in 1992. Motorcycle crash rates had dropped throughout the U.S. during the ten years before this study.

Although California's crash rate per thousand registered motorcycles was higher than for the U.S. as a whole before CMSP began, there was no distinguishable difference at the time of this report. California's motorcycle fatality rate per thousand registrations dropped by 35.6 percent since CMSP began in 1987. During the same period, the rate for the rest of the U.S. dropped by 20.9 percent.

In the time between the adoption of CMSP and passage of the helmet law in California, annual motorcycle fatalities dropped by 29 percent, from 840 to 511. Total motorcycle fatalities per thousand registrations dropped 21.5 percent during that period, while in the rest of the U.S. fatalities dropped by only 11.7 percent (see Illustration 3).

Illustration 3:
Crashes Per 1,000 Registrations

A reduction of 76 fatalities and 1,333 injuries per year represents an annual savings to society of $113 million. This savings is more than 80 times the cost of the CMSP program, which is funded by a $2.00 surcharge on each motorcycle registration.

Matched-Pair Analysis

Another technique of observing crash trends is matched-pair analysis, which measures the crash rates of people who completed training with similar people who did not have training.

Interviewers gathered information on motorcyclists--including age, sex, years riding, miles ridden per year, and primary purpose of riding. The sampling process, begun in 1989, interviewed more than 16,000 motorcyclists.

Telephone surveys showed that recent CMSP-trained riders reported more use of helmets, boots, and jackets than untrained riders. Mail-back surveys in 1994 showed that 37 percent rode more miles each year after training than the untrained riders.

During the six months after training, riders who took the basic CMSP course had a lower crash rate than their untrained counterparts. After a period of one year, however, the crash rates differed less, perhaps because experience brought the crash rates of untrained riders down. As both groups gained further experience, the crash rates tended to merge (see Illustration 4).

Illustration 4:
Crashes Per Hundred Thousand Miles Before and After Training-Matched Pairs of Trained and Untrained Novice Riders


The author pointed out that novice riders with fewer than 500 miles prior riding experience showed the most measurable impact of training. He recommended future research and public information campaigns target this group.

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.

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